The Berkshire Fringe: "Yelling at Bananas in Whole Foods"by Dan Bernitt, and "DARK: An End of the World Play with Music and an Exercise Bike" by Timothy Ryan Olson. Music by Peter Wise.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"The more time he spends outside. . ."
The Berkshire Fringe Festival provides opportunities for young writers, fledgling performance companies and others to explore the arts of theatrical experience on so many levels. For eight seasons they have been bringing to the attention of Berkshire audiences the amazing talents that exist locally and from outside the region as well and this year they have brought in artists from the United Kingdom and Korea as well, making this an international festival. Two plays, done the same night, caught fire and are reported on here.
The first one was Dan Bernitt’s solo stage work, written and performed by Bernitt, "Yelling at Bananas in Whole Foods" which is a journey play, taking the character of Dan on a long road to wellness of the body and recovery of the mind. Bernitt portrays himself as a character along with half a dozen others including Susan Powter, a 1990's TV food guru whose show "Stop the Insanity!" serves as an inspiration for this piece concerned with the journey of a soul from ill health to pure wellness and the lack of appreciation he received for taking the work so seriously.
Her show and her books inspired women, in particular, to take charge of their own lives. In 2002, she returned to writing with The Politics of Stupid, a stream-of-consciousness, self-published manifesto encouraging women to take control of their brains and bodies from food manufacturers, corrupt governments, and fitness/diet industries. Bernitt takes her goal as the one he pursues in this play and his journey is alternately thoughtful and disquieting, outlandishly funny and often frightening.
When he reaches the point of reducing his diet to costly bananas and some other fruit, it becomes a psychological breaking point, too hard to handle and wonderful to witness.
This show only runs through Saturday, August 4.
The second play, DARK, is a play written by two of the fringe festival’s co-founders and it stars the third. Timothy Ryan Olson has written the book and lyrics for Peter Wise’s music. Sara Katzoff plays the nearly demented Kessie, a woman determined to outlive the worldwide holocaust that destroys most of humanity, leaving her, her sister-in-law Ida and Ida’s son Emmet alive along with - somewhere in the night - Bradley Cooper, the sexiest man alive according to People Magazine.
This fanciful conceit is beautifully designed by Lisa Myers with perfect character costumes designed by George Veale III, and fine lighting created by Tim Cryan. The three family members are hiding out in a one-room mountain-top cabin that Kessie and her brother own. They have blackout curtains for the windows, an acre of canned goods and large containers of Tang powder to sustain them as they wait for the missing brother/husband/father to come to them. These three live the lie of survival to the fullest, even using an exercise bike to power their lights in the cabin.
Emmet, an impressionable teenager played to perfection by Michael Brahce, soon develops secrets which nearly destroy the tenuous relationship that holds these three together. Katzoff overacts now and then as Kessie, giving her more a sense of caricature than Brahce brings to Emmet. Ida, his mother, is played with a curious amount of understatement, by way of contrast, by Emma Dweck. Their three very different approaches works in the favor of the show, though, for each emerges as a perfect representation of the type of person each has been cast to play.
This is a well-made play for the nuttiness of its premise and its presentation. The final moment of the play is meant, it seems, to be revelatory and instead it provides an unusual amount of hope while at the same time being the most frightening moment of all in this "end of the world" drama.
This whole experience is so reminiscent of the off-off-Broadway movement of the 1970s that it became an literal trot down memory lane. The development of this sort of work fosters the future of the theater and it must be supported and attended if it is to continue. It was wonderful to see a very young audience sitting alongside some more mature and experienced theatre-goers. DARK only has two more performances ending its run on Friday night, but there is more on their schedule including free music performances in their lobby before some of the theatrical works.
Keep the theater alive. See its future taking shape at the Berkshire Fringe Festival.
Dan Bernitt; photo: provided
Michael Brahce, Sara Katzoff, Emma Dweck; photo: provided
For information on the festival’s schedule and tickets contact them at their box office at 413-320-4175 or check out their website at www.berkshirefringe.org. Performances take place at the Daniel Arts Center at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, 84 Alford Road, Great Barrington, MA.